20 Beauty and Style Mistakes I Made In My 20s (That I'm Ditching Now That I'm in my 30s)

The main thing I notice when I look back over the decade I've just graduated from, it's that I didn't know s@#% about styling myself in an attractive way.
Publish date:
May 15, 2013
clothes, aging, 30s, 20s, beauty mistakes

Conventional wisdom has it that the 20s are our most attractive decade -- the heights of our dewy post-adolescent desirability matched only by our impossibly perky tits. And I guess there's something to be said for factory-new raw materials, the main thing I notice when I look back over the decade I've just graduated from, it's that I didn't know shit about styling myself in an attractive way.

My 20s were defined by bad dye jobs, too much eye makeup, and cheap ill-fitting lingerie-inspired tops from Joyce Leslie. Not to mention, I spent years 20 through 25 binge-drinking, snorting dehydrating drugs, making myself throw up and barely going home to sleep. Honestly, I look younger now than I did when I was inflicting all that abuse on my skin, face, body and soul.

Anyway, I'm 30 now! And when I look back at photos from the first half of my 20s, there are little things I notice -- a slightly slimmer figure, the absence of gray hair and those little eye wrinkles that have started to form. But mostly I think about how much better I look now, and the following mistakes are just a few of the reasons why.

1. Wearing too much eyeliner.

This picture is not a joke. This is an accurate representation of the way I wore my eye makeup as little as 3 years ago. Probably the greatest beauty milestone of my 20s was the day I stopped lining underneath my eyes. Now I eschew eyeshadow for the most part and just wear a sliver of liquid liner on top of my eye and mascara. Not only is this much more flattering, it allows me to wear a bold lip without looking like a beauty queen/try-hard.

And it's all because of you guys! I wrote a post really early on at xoJane about how I couldn't leave the house without makeup and posted a makeup pic and a bare face pic. You guys, the commenters, told me I was wearing too much makeup, and so I started wearing less and now I look so much better!

2. Wearing too much foundation.

Probably the other biggest beauty revelation of my past decade was that my skin looks much better when you can actually see my skin. Ever since the Mary Kay lady sold me my first four-color eyeshadow palettes in the consultation that is an Oklahoma coming-of-age ritual, I'd been piling on the foundation and powder until my face was both matte and several shades darker than my natural color. Now I just cleanse and exfoliate in the morning, put on moisturizer and sunscreen, and throw on a little Josie Maran Argan Oil Illuminizer.

3. Only doing the front of my hair.

I'm not saying you need to spend the same care and attention on the back of your hair as the front, because as I always say, "It's not like I have to look at it." But maybe GLANCE at that shit in the mirror so you don't end up looking like I do in that photo above that Mandy snapped of the back of my head one day in the office. Dude, you can see my extensions.

4. Wearing my makeup to bed.

With the invention of Neutrogena Makeup Remover wipes, there's really just no excuse not to take 2 minutes to wipe your makeup off at night. Unless you drink a lot. That's a pretty good excuse.

5. Only wearing black.

Black may make you look thinner, but it also makes you look boring as hell. Plus, I could never find anything in my closet when all I owned were 800 black tops with slight neckline variations. A great color makes all your features pop and shows you have confidence.

6. Trying to wear strapless.

By your 30s, there should be some styles you know just don't work for you. For me, it was the realization, after years of trying to make it work, that I just can't do strapless bras. They do not hold my business up. I have to constantly adjust them all night. So I no longer torture myself by even trying on tube dresses, halters, backless, or spaghetti straps. I have accepted that these things, they are not for me. As with all things in life, acceptance is freeing.

7. Cutting my bangs too short.

I still cut my own bangs, and every fifth or so time I do it, I fuck them up and have to go get them cleaned up at a salon. But what I don't do anymore is what I used to do in my early 20s, which is get overzealous and cut them way way too short. I'd keep trying to even them up and they'd keep getting shorter and shorter and pretty soon I'd have a weird little fringe on the top of my forehead that I'd try to convince myself was cute in a "Bettie bangs" sort of way.

I use the twist cutting technique and always cut them long, only getting shorter by the tiniest incriments. Uneven can be fixed, too short can't!

8. Buying clothes that don't fit.

The other day, a sales associate asked me how a dress I'd tried on was fitting.

"It's a little tight around the tummy," I told her.

"Just wear Spanx!" she chirped. That might have worked on me at 24, but at 30 I know for sure that I don't want to spend money on anything I have to bind myself into just to make it look halway decent.

If you have to stand in an awkward pose to make an article of clothing look good on you, don't buy it. If it'll look really great when you lost 5 pounds, don't buy it. If it's too short to wear without tights, don't buy it. If you have to wear a cardigan with it, and you won't be able to take the cardigan off and feel comfortable, don't buy it.

9. Spanx.

They suck. I can't wear them comfortably for more than an hour or so, and they usually roll down and give me weird fat bulges that are worse than my regular fat bulges because they're not even in normal human fat bulge places.

10. Overtweezing my brows.

It's probably partly the beauty trends, but it seems like I spent my adolescence and early 20s trying to get smaller eyebrows and now all I want are bigger eyebrows. I've stopped tweezing all together and extend my natural brow line with Anastasia Brow Gel and Brow Wiz pencil. I'm pretty sure everybody looks better with a big brow than with those spermy, comma-shaped things we were all aiming for in the 90s.

11. Wearing that style of shirt that always makes everybody ask you if you're pregnant.

I finally stopped buying that shirt. It makes me look pregnant.

12. Buying shoes I can't walk in.

I wasted so much money in my 20s on heels I never wore because they hurt my feet too badly or I literally couldn't take 3 steps in them without stumbling. Now I bypass stilettos altogether for the kind of platform heels that are more realistic for my lifestyle. (My lifestyle being the kind where I am not rich enough to take cabs everywhere/be carried on a throne by a quadrant of muscular shirtless men.)

I also make sure to try on my heels and walk all over the damn store in them before purchase. Try them on tile as well as carpet! I literally bled into my shoes in my 20s and considered that normal.

13. Being scared of lipstick.

Believe it or not, I never wore lipstick before I started working at xoJane. For years, I was one of those people who thought they couldn't wear it. Every few months, I purchased a new shade and slathered it on in the am, only to wipe it off the first time I caught a glimpse of myself looking like Bozo in a reflective surface.

The key to learning how to wear bright lipstick is to just do it. You have to just decide that you're gonna work the look, and stick with it long enough to get used to your face. Not wearing all that eyeliner and foundation helps too.

14. Skimping on hair.

There are some things you can get cheap and some things you should never, ever skimp on. My personal trifecta of expensive necessities are: hair, shoes and tattoos. Payless heels will never, ever be comfortable and your hair is pretty much the first thing people notice about you. You could put a gorgeous head of hair on an iguana and some dudes would probably try to make out with it.

So many times in my 20s, I went into Supercuts from a trim, thinking "How hard can it be?" The answer is apparently "too hard." Too hard for the Supercuts guy.

If you have the beauty budget to spend on one thing, I say make it your hair.

15. Trying to make jeans happen.

Substitute your own personal style white whale here. Everybody wears jeans, so I kept trying to make it work throughout the whole decade. But you know what? I don't look good in jeans. I don't feel comfortable in them. I can buy as many different brands of jeans in as many different styles as I want and that's never going to change. In my 30s, I'm going to just fucking wear dresses.

16. Dyeing my own hair unflattering shades.

Ever since I was a teenager, I've loved dyeing my own hair. Every few months, I'd pick a shade from the shelves at my local Wal-Mart, strip down to my bra and pile my goopy, chemical-slathered hair on top of my head for 30 minutes. It never failed to put me in a good mood, but it also resulted in some pretty unflattering results.


I still dye my hair at home most of the time, but I'm replicating a shade selected for me by a professional, and I know these days that warm browns are the most flattering to my skin and features.

17. Washing my hair every day.

My hair is thin to begin with. When I wash it every day, it just hangs there like so many limp, brown spaghetti noodles.

Now I just stick my bangs in the sink and shampoo and blowdry them. Sometime I spray a little dry shampoo on the rest of my hair. If you're lucky, I still get in the shower and wash my vagina.

18. Trying to wear headbands.

I give up on you in 30s, headbands! You always give me a killer headache within an hour.

19. Not wearing blush.

Again, I don't know why my makeup goal in my 20s seemed to be to make my face as matte and devoid of life as possible like a weird waxen mask. In my 30s, I want to look fresh, dewy, glowy and alive! These days I smear a cream blush (I'm really into ELF's All Over Color Stick in Pink Lemonade lately) all over the apples of my cheeks for that freshly-fucked look.

20. Buying things just because they're cheap.

Lots of cheap things are great. But it took the trial-and-error of my 20s to realize which ones. I was probably 28 before I even knew you could buy makeup anywhere but a drugstore, and I would be markedly less attractive without more-expensive lipstick brands like MAC, Nars and YSL.

But I've really learned this lesson when it comes to fashion. As Alison wrote yesterday, it's easy to cram your closet full of cheap, unflattering clothing just because it's so accessible. But your 30s are really about honing and defining your signature style. By now, I know what shapes (shifts, fit and flare) and trends are flattering on me and I mostly stick to what works. I can find a great dress for 300 dollars at Kate Spade or I can find a great dress for 30 dollars at H&M, but I try not to buy stuff just because it's inexpensive these days.

If I'm not sure whether or not I should get something, I take that as a sign that I don't really want it that badly. And before I make any purchase, I ask myself: Do I want to wear this tomorrow? If not, I figure I'm not really that excited about it and should leave it on the shelf.

So there you go. What beauty mistakes lurk in your past? Do you look better in your 30s than you did in your 20s? How much more do you think women would get done if we didn't waste a whole decade learning to like ourselves after sexism totally thrashes our self-esteem and obscures our authentic selves in adolescence? (That last question isn't beauty-related, just something I've been thinking about.)

Follow @msemilymccombs to find out about her many non-beauty-related mistakes.